COVID-19 spike outside NCR ‘worrying’, says WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday expressed its concern over the spike of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases being detected outside the National Capital Region (NCR).

World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)

WHO Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe described the growing cases in certain regions as "worrying phenomena."

“We are seeing increasing evidence of a large number of new cases being reported from Region 4a (Calabarzon), Region 3 (Central Luzon), Region 10 (Northern Mindanao), Region 12 (Soccsksargen), and Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), and may be a few other regions,” said Abeyasinghe in a virtual press briefing.

Based on the DOH COVID-19 tracker, Calabarzon has 2,816 cases; Central Luzon with 983; Northern Mindanao with 131; Soccksargen with 64; and Eastern Visayas with 367. The data is as of Thursday, July 2.

The increasing number of cases in those areas may be attributed to people who arrived from places that have sustained transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

These are locally stranded individuals in NCR who could not return to their provincial hometowns during the extended quarantine and returning overseas Filipinos, said Abeyasinghe.

“This is worrying phenomena but what we also need to recognize is that these new infections in new regions are often influenced by people traveling from infected areas where there is active transmission,” said Abeyasinghe.

“So these are what we call the return of locally stranded individuals or repatriates coming from other countries,” he added.

Abeyasinghe said that it is imperative that those people going back to their respective provinces be properly tested and quarantined.

“Otherwise, there is a very real risk as we have seen in the many regions of the country that they could take the virus and start local outbreaks,” said Abeyasinghe.

Abeyasinghe, meanwhile, said that they “seem to be seeing a constant concentration” of cases in NCR and Central Visayas.

Contact tracing

Abeyasinghe recognized the Philippine government’s response to the ongoing pandemic. But aside from expanding the testing capacity, the government should also strengthen further its contact tracing efforts, he said.

“It is good that cases are being detected in large numbers because of expansion of testing capacity. But let me reiterate…that expansion of testing capacity needs to also be accompanied by an expansion of contact tracing, investigation, and isolation of cases, ” said Abeyasinghe.

Strengthening the contact tracing efforts would help in identifying where the transmission is actually happening, said Abeyasinghe.

“This is so we can practice targeted lockdown in those places where transmission is actually happening, rather than having city-wide or barangay-wide lockdowns affecting many people who are not at risk,” he said.

The WHO official said that they recognized that the imposed community quarantine measures in several areas of the country “is not an easy decision.”

“We acknowledge that these quarantine measures are coming with socio-economic cost and we would like to minimize that,” said Abeyasinghe.